You’re just trying to do like Brian Tracy said and eat that frog by your deadline, but between your open office environment and your coworkers’ insistence on immediate gratification in getting their random questions answered, you just can’t seem to get anything done. Sound familiar?
“A 2013 study found that many workers in open offices are frustrated by distractions that lead to poorer work performance.” That is from a 2014 Washington Post article, which goes on to make recommendations to employers like offering private areas, implementing scheduled “quiet times,” and allowing employees to work from home.
Of course, the challenge employees have is that they don’t control when and how their company implements such changes.
I’d like to propose some ground rules for intra-office communication that you and your coworkers can choose to agree on. There are two specific variables I’m concerned with here – (1) how critical is it, and (2) how open is the recipient to distractions?
You wouldn’t shout at someone at a funeral, and you wouldn’t whisper at a loud party, right? Similarly, if you burst in when someone is focused on getting something accomplished with something that you don’t need an answer on anytime soon, you are shouting at them when a whisper would’ve sufficed.
To maximize everyone’s productivity, prioritize your method of communication-based on both your message’s urgency and importance. Choosing to follow the following methodology makes sure how you are speaking in a “voice” consistent with your message.
- If it is not very important, is it even worth distracting someone else with it? If it is, email it.
- If it is important, but not urgent, still email it.
- As the urgency grows, so should your method of communication (in this order):
- Instant message/text message – This says to the recipient “I am looking for an answer soon.”
- Phone call – This says “I could use your attention right now.”
- Drop-in – This says “I need to move forward but am stuck without your answer.”
Next, understand that your priorities don’t trump someone else’s. By setting up some mutually agreed upon cues, you can ensure you are respecting each other’s productivity.
- If you need to get deep in head-down, focused work, put some headphones on and turn the email and IM off. If you’ve shared this, they’ll know it means that (unless it is an emergency) they need to stick with email and avoid interrupting you.
- If someone does interrupt you, you now know that it is worthy of your attention and should allow it if at all possible.
Just with these two measures in mind, you and your coworkers can avoid this.
About the Author – Ryan Bonilla is very active both professionally and personally in the Gwinnett community. He is a Gwinnett Chamber ambassador and serves on several committees and boards related to leadership and education. He lives with his wife and two daughters in Sugar Hill, GA.